Monday, May 5, 2014

Versailles 3D Review Part 3: Shambles at Versailles Game

Well, the most recent time I tried to play, I got a 404 "Page Not Found" error.  Hopefully that won't happen when you try:

In the link won't work for you, you can at least read about it and watch a play-through (albeit in French) and the case study (in English) at this link:

Ok, so history is usually a hard sell to kids.  This game seeks to change that.  

As soon as the game starts, we meet Louis the XIV, in talking-painting form.  We quickly meet other talking paintings who guide us through the game.  This is hilariously entertaining, until you find out that the paintings won't stop talking.  A pitfall I feel the game falls into is that it is tries to teach through narration, which is not only about the most boring part of the game, it is pretty much the same as sitting in a classroom.  I want to play the game, I don't want to sit here and listen to fluff talk!  

Perhaps this excess of narration is the reason the average user spends only six minutes playing the game (they mention it in the second link I posted).  While six minutes of learning is certainly better than zero,  considering the average child spends seven hours each day on entertainment media (some of which likely includes video games), Shambles at Versailles could clearly be doing a better job (  Also, it should be noted that you cannot beat the game in six minutes.  At least, a 22 year old college student cannot even get half-way through the game designed for 8-12 year-olds in six minutes.  Speaking of the target age group, I imagine anyone older than nine or ten getting bored with this really, really quickly.  I think a more appropriate age range might be 6-9 years old and might even be fun for 5 year old children with the help of a grown-up (they will definitely like the talking paintings).         

Although the stages of the "journey" of building digital Versailles parallel the major building campaigns of Versailles, there seems to be very little learning happening in the gameplay itself.  I don't understand how leading a lost Louis XIV through a garden maze is relevant to the history of Versailles other than the very tenuous relationship that both the game and Versailles have garden-mazes and a Louis XIV.    

Another issue I have with the game is that the only lose condition is running out of time.  Even if I have no clue what I am doing, most of the time I can still win the mini-game within the time limit through sheer chance (though, granted, I am well outside the intended age range).  For example, I can randomly click on animals in the menagerie until I figure out where they are supposed to belong (oh wait, I actually did that- even with all that narration, I still had no clue what I was supposed to do).  Similarly, I can randomly click on seed packets and scatter them about the screen with no real method until I fill in the garden, because there is no penalty imposed for planting the wrong seeds in the wrong places.  The irony of losing is that it makes you want to play more, not less.  Case in point: the smash hit "Flappy Bird."  Therefore, by making the game nearly impossible to lose, Shambles at Versailles decreases player interest over time.  On average that interest hits zero at the six minute mark, or about three minutes after the initial bout of narration.         

The final bone I have to pick with Shambles at Versailles is that there is perhaps a little too much verbal encouragement.  When I was in the maze, for example, even if I was heading away from the goal I would get a "Great job!" or "Keep going!" or "You're so smart!"  It actually confused me at first because I thought I was doing something right by heading away from the goal (as I was being rewarded).  After another second or two, I realized the praises seem to be randomized on a timer and bear no connection with your actions in the game.  A good game, however, should be self-motivating.  In other words, you don't have to be told to keep going because you want to keep going, even when (especially when) things get challenging.         

Obviously, there's quite a bit of room for improvement, but there are some praiseworthy elements to Shambles at Versailles.  I really like that, as a reward for completing the game, you can print your own tiny little model pattern of Versailles.  This is how an educational game should work:  fun learning is rewarded more fun learning (emphasis on the fun)!  This way learning becomes rewarding in and of itself, instead of relying on an outside stimulus (like candy or verbal praise) to make learning rewarding.  Evidence shows that printing out a tiny model of Versailles has been massively popular, with nearly 15,000 models printed in the first three months.  I also like that the game makes it easy to learn more with an interactive story book.  For gamer-students who are interested enough to learn more, additional information is literally a click away.  Finally, as I mentioned before, I really like the talking paintings as characters... I just wish they wouldn't talk quite so much. 

It is no easy task to get children excited about history, but who can blame them if their only encounter with history has been through textbooks and lectures?  Shambles at Versailles offer a much needed alternative method of learning, and though it can and should be improved to increase player retention, it is still valuable as a learning tool.          

Here's what other bloggers had to say about the game:

If you would like to brush up on some very basic game theory and learn about the essential components of a game: 

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